A Tribute to King Tubby

On February 6, 1989, the world was violently robbed of one of the most influential personalities in music history. Osbourne Ruddock, a shot and killed by a still unknown gunman in front of his home in the ghetto of Waterhouse Kingston 11. Ruddock, more universally known as by his moniker King Tubby was the inventor of Dub music, and hence the inventor of the musical remix. Though his name is not as easily recognized outside of the reggae scene, those who perform or mix hip hop, techno, or any other remix music's, all owe a debt of gratitude to the man called King Tubby.

Osbourne "King Tubby" Ruddock was born in Kingston, Jamaica on January 28, 1941. As a youth, he always showed an interest and a knowledge in all things electrical and sure enough, come the early 1960s, Tubby had his own electrical shop where he specialized in repairing Televisions, radios and so on. But as time ticked on, Tubby decided what he wanted to do was build some of the most heavy and powerful speakers anyone has ever heard and start his own sound system. By 1968, King Tubby's Home Town Hi-Fi was born and was already competing with top sounds like Ruddy Redwoods Supreme Ruler Of Sound.

But the Home Town Hi-Fi had a couple of distinct advantages over all comers. Tubby, being a very gifted electrical engineer, built special echo and reverb units to add to the flavor of instrumental versions of some of the top sounds being recorded on the island. Also, Tubby had the help of the top deejay on the island, the man called U Roy.

Using the reverb and echo while U Roy toasted over hit tunes proved to be an amazing combination. The Sound became the biggest one of the day. And around this time, Tubby started working as a disc-cutter creating acetates for Duke Reid. This got Tubby really interested in playing around with music. so in 1971, due to the encouragement of his friend, producer Bunny Lee, Tubby bought a used 4-track mixing console and installed it into his small dub-cutting studio. It's here that he begins voicing and mixing other producers tunes.

And the reason all those producers went for Tubbys was simple. With his experienced background in electronics, Tubby was able to custom build parts for his studio. For instance, he installed his own faders allowing him to slide tracks in and out of the mix very easy. He also custom built his own reverb and echo units. And so Tubby began experimenting like he did on the Hi-Fi. He increased the already heavy bass and drum rhythms by making them even heavier. Then he would fade different instruments in and out creating and very spacy and improvisational feel to the tracks. Topped off with some echo and pounding drums and sounds of explosions and whatever else Tubby wanted to do to the track, and Dub was born.

Soon Dub versions began appearing on the B-side to every single that was released, and for the first time, the version was credited to the engineer. Dub swept the nation like wildfire. Producers like Prince Tony Robinson, Bunny Lee, Augustus Pablo, Lee Perry (though not him as much since he had his own studio and was quite creative in his own right), Winston Riley and practically everyone else went to Tubbys little Waterhouse studio to either voice a tune, get a Dub mix of a tune or both.

Tubby wasn't the only one doing Dub of course. Further experiments were coming from equally talented engineers like Errol Thompson and Lee Perry. But the way Tubby was able to make everything sound so smooth and so right ensured that he would be the best. And son enough Tubby even had the help of some young and eager to learn apprentices.

"Prince" Phillip Smart (who later moved to the US to start up the Reggae Studio HCF on Long Island), started there as well as Lloyd "Prince Jammy" James who went to to greater success as the innovative digital producer in the mid 80s, rechristend as King Jammy. Also, the man who, in my opinion, is one of Jamaica's most innovative engineers, started as a Tubby disciple, Overton "Scientist" Brown.

Dub ruled the reggae scene through the better half of the 70s, with full on dub albums even being released (most popular featuring Tubby mixes is probably Augustus Pablos phenomenal "King Tubby's Meets Rockers Uptown"). But as the 80's dawned, people began to get bored with Dub and Roots reggae and so the Dancehall sound was born. This didn't stop Tubby though, and as the 80's began, Tubby moved into production.

In the mid-80's, Tubby launched both the Firehouse and Taurus labels and begins working on a brand new studio. He produced many tracks in the digital era, ironically becoming King Jammys biggest competitor. Tubby produced tracks like "Temper" by Anthony "Red" Rose as well as successful tracks by ranking artists like Ninjaman, Nitty Gritty, King Kong and Tenor Saw. He even had a sew set of apprentices once his studio was finally completed in 1985, including Phantom and Professor.

Tubbys reign as a top dancehall producer was tragically short-lived though. In the early morning of February 6th, 1989, while leaving his studio in Waterhouse, King Tubby was murdered by a lone gunman. Jamaica had lost of its most innovative and influential talents. The man who murdered Tubby's has to this day, never been caught and never been brought to justice.

Tubbys music seems to live on though. Especially these days through a new and vital interest in dub music thanks to new producers like Jah Warrior, Twilight Circus Dub Sound System, and many, many others. Also thanks to the efforts of the great reissue label Blood and Fire who has put so much knowledge and love into their issues of Tubby's work. His remix techniques changed the way music was made and opened many many doors to the creativity of new musical styles to be born from it. And for that the world should be eternally grateful to the late great Dub Master.

Selected King Tubby links

King Tubby Tribute:
King Tubby On CD:
Blood and Fire label:

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